Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Working on a Dream
By Daniel Grant
Much of the mythic appeal of Bruce Springsteen's early work rested upon the underdog aura surrounding his seemingly star-crossed career. Signed to Columbia as a "New Dylan" by the legendary John Hammond in the early '70s, Springsteen released two exceptional albums to almost total market indifference and was close to being dropped from the label at the time his epic third album, Born to Run, was released. However, far from capitalizing on the critical acclaim and media attention that instant classic generated, Springsteen next found himself embroiled in a years-long legal battle with his manager that prevented him from recording for over three years (a lifetime in the 1970's music biz).
By the time Springsteen emerged from his legal exile with Darkness on the Edge of Town in 1978, the musical landscape had completely changed. Disco ruled the charts and punk rock had won the hearts and minds of the more adventurous and experimental listeners in the marketplace. Springsteen set about carving out a unique place for himself that skirted the commercial mainstream while still selling large quantities of records to a diverse audience composed nearly equally of rockers, punks and big-haired Jersey girls. In short, he had the biggest "cult" audience the music business had ever seen.
By the time the planets aligned to make him the biggest star in the world upon the release of 1984's Born in the U.S.A., Springsteen had grown weary of the demands of the marketplace and his enormous fan base, so he dropped out at the top of his game. When he returned in 1988 as a divorced man pushing 40 with the underrated Tunnel of Love, Springsteen was a changed man. The last 20 years have seen the Boss release a series of records in a variety of musical styles, both with and without the E Street Band. Although several of these records have been of a consistently high quality, the passage of time and the changing musical landscape have left Springsteen looking increasingly isolated and out-of-step with the times. The fundamental problem he has faced is how to deal with being a highly personal artist whose fame has reached outsized proportions.
Springsteen's newest release, Working on a Dream, is his third collaboration with producer Brendan O'Brien beginning with 2002's The Rising. O'Brien seems to have created an effective working environment for Springsteen that has enabled him to record at a much faster pace than many observers would have imagined possible given Springsteen's notoriously slow and laborious recording process earlier in his career. O'Brien's work with E Street Band appears to be rooted in his ability to recapture the classic sounds of their earlier recordings in a shorthand way using a modern studio. Unfortunately, while O'Brien captures the sound, he often misses the feelings and emotions those earlier classic songs conveyed.
Like 2007's Magic (also produced by O'Brien), this feels like a highly efficient album. All the right notes are struck and there is undeniable craft in the writing and playing. However, there are few surprises and no revelations. This feels like the product of a group of very accomplished middle aged professional musicians who all like and respect each other. However, true passion of any kind feels missing. Bob Dylan was able to reinvent himself in the twilight of his career by following his muse into dark places as he raged against the dying of the light. Also, his choice of more adventurous collaborators, such as Daniel Lanois, helped him redefine his sound while remaining recognizably "Dylanesque."
Springsteen would be better served working with a master of analog recording techniques, like Jack White, rather than have his albums continue to sport the glistening sheen of a high tech digital studio. One of the primary reasons Springsteen's 2006 release, The Seeger Sessions, was met with nearly unanimous critical acclaim was the informal, party time nature of the sound and production. The musicians on that album sound like they are having a great time and that simply playing the songs is their reward, rather than expecting a number one record and a year-long tour. Working on a Dream, rather unfortunately, feels like the 2009 equivalent of the corporate rock Springsteen fought hard to overthrow back in the '70s.
Working on a Dream is front loaded with its best songs. The eight minute opener, Outlaw Pete, raises the listener's expectations that Springsteen has returned to the epic scope of his earliest work. However, the comic book quality of the lyrics and unfocused, everything-but-the-kitchen sink musical setting soon stops those thoughts in their tracks. The next three songs, though, are as good as modern day Bruce Springsteen gets. My Lucky Day, the title track and Queen of the Supermarket are a trio of tuneful and affecting mainstream rock tunes that are able to overcome the glossy digital production.
From there, though, the record meanders through a series of overproduced, under-written exercises that, while certainly of a respectable quality, are far below the lofty standards Springsteen set for himself long ago. The album closes on another high note, with Surprise, Surprise, a catchy pop number; The Last Carnival, a moving tribute to long time E Streeter, Danny Federici, who passed away during the album's recording; and the title song from the recent movie, The Wrestler. These high points make the listener wonder what might have been.
In the final analysis, the burden of history is probably an unreasonably heavy load for a nearly 60-year old rock singer to bear. That sounds more like a job for a super hero with an able assistant, both of whom are armed with secret weapons. However, I can't shake the feeling that when I look at the cover of Born to Run and see the Boss and his Telecaster back-to-back with the Big Man and his sax, that is exactly what I am seeing. I just wish they would have worked a little harder on this particular dream.
Springsteen plans to tour North American in April.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Photo: Ben Blau
January 24, 2009
The Glass House in Pomona
Moving Units made their live return to The Glass House in Pomona this past Saturday. The band took the stage just after 10:15 PM to an already steamy crowd. The band started things off somewhat tame with "Dark Walls" before launching the crowd into a chaotic dance party with "Birds Of Prey." Switching gears once again, they went into "Emancipation." The L.A. quartet danced and edged their way through an almost hour and 45 minute set, spoiling the crowd with a nice blend of old and newer material, pulling mostly from their "Dangerous Minds" (2004) album. The crowd surfing climaxed during "Between Us & Them," reminding hard care fans of the electricity from the band's early shows. The boys returned to the stage with an encore consisting of some early classics like "Anyone" & "I Am, and Available" from their self titled EP (2002) to round out the evening with and exclamation mark.
Frontman Blake Miller appeared in great spirits, but didn't speak much, leaving most of the talking in between songs to drummer, Chris Hathwell. Although the Glasshouse has been notoriously plagued by sound problems, MU appeared to have no problems and actually sounded great. For the first time, I couldn't complain about the sound issues at The Glass House. Not only did they sound great, but the band was confident and sounded very tight, as if it was just another day on tour.
Moving Units are due to head back into the studio in the coming months to start work on their 3rd studio effort. From the looks of the show, good things could be on the horizon as Moving Units continue into 2009.
Don't forget to mark your calendars: Moving Units play the El Rey on March 6th.
Birds of Prey
Between Us & Them
Crash N Burn Victims
X & Y
Going for Adds
Friday, January 23, 2009
The party is ON...this Saturday in Long Beach. The details are on the flyer and the schedule is listed below. Aside from being a kick ass gathering of some of the greatest American poets of our time, it's to benefit a great cause.
Check it: Authors Mindy Nettifee and Amber Tamblyn started a non-profit organization last year called Write Now, an organization dedicated to fundraising for and in support of the writing community.
Amber Tamblyn says, "Our events will be stress free environments where people can come mingle, meet other people interested or already involved in the community and get some sweet stuff from our auction...yes, there is potentially going to be an auction hosted by a VERY special guest."
Oooh la la...special guest!? If you've even been to any of the Write Bloody events or readings, you know that they're not fucking around when they say "special" guest. Trust me. You want to SAY YES to this event.
Saturday January 24th
The Goods Gallery
200 Long Beach Blvd.
Long Beach, CA 90802
4:30: doors open, DJ Abel starts playing some sweet songs
Sunset: Rob Zabrecky
6:00: Free Moral Agents
7:00: Jay Buchanan
8:00: Mindy Nettifee, Beau Sia, Amber Tamblyn and Derrick Brown
9:15ish: Dance party
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Kevin Bronson's Interview with Mark Sovel on his Buzz Bands Show (Little Radio)
My guest spot on LA Snark
The Boss is letting you listen to his entire new album on NPR. Good guy, that Bruce.
Have a good weekend and don't get the cough I have. It sucks.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Mark Sovel, Former Music Director For Indie 103.1, To Be Kevin Bronson's Guest On Little Radio Today
Be sure to tune into Little Radio this morning (10am-12pm) to catch Kevin Bronson's Buzz Bands show. Mark Sovel, of Check One...Two and Indie 103.1 fame, will be Bronson's guest today, making it a SHOVEL VS. BUZZ BANDS special for all you cats and kittens. I expect there to be a great conversation about what really went down with the station and it's decision to move to the new format, but we'll see. If nothing else, listen to the good music.
This morning, when I asked Bronson about what he and Mr. Shovel would be talking about, he said, "I think I'll just be advising him not to spend his unemployment check all in one place." Smart. That Bronson is a sharp one.
Please note: The Buzz Bands show used to be on Wednesday afternoons and has moved to this day/time slot until further notice. The Little Radio site hasn't been updated yet so I thought I would pass that information onto you. Enjoy.
PS: Mark, sorry for misspelling your name in the original post. No disrespect was intended.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
The messages started pouring in via Twitter this morning: "OMG! INDIE IS DEAD!!"
Today is a very sad day for listeners and fans of the Los Angeles based radio station known to the locals simply as Indie. As of this morning, Indie 103.1 (KDLD-FM) has gone digital. If you tune into the station today, you will hear the following message:
This is an important message for the Indie 103.1 Radio Audience -
Indie 103.1 will cease broadcasting over this frequency effective immediately. Because of changes in the radio industry and the way radio audiences are measured, stations in this market are being forced to play too much Britney, Puffy and alternative music that is neither new nor cutting edge. Due to these challenges, Indie 103.1 was recently faced with only one option — to play the corporate radio game.
We have decided not to play that game any longer. Rather than changing the sound, spirit, and soul of what has made Indie 103.1 great Indie 103.1 will bid farewell to the terrestrial airwaves and take an alternative course.
This could only be done on the Internet, a place where rules do not apply and where new music thrives; be it grunge, punk, or alternative - simply put, only the best music.
For those of you with a computer at home or at work, log on to www.indie1031.com and listen to the new Indie 103.1 - which is really the old Indie 103.1, not the version of Indie 103.1 we are removing from the broadcast airwaves.
We thank our listeners and advertisers for their support of the greatest radio station ever conceived, and look forward to continuing to deliver the famed Indie 103.1 music and spirit over the Internet to passionate music listeners around the world.
We are totally bummed. For the past five years, it seemed that Indie 103.1 had been the only station where one could hear local L.A. bands on Check One...Two, new music from across the pond on Passport Approved and Steve Jones himself on Jonesys Jukebox and Jonesys Jukebox Jury.
You will be missed, Indie. Thank you for all of the tunes. And thank you for "taking a stand."
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
The Filter Music Alliance is a community of like-minded, passionate music fans, webmasters, bloggers. If you look at the top, right hand corner of our page, you will find Filter Magazine's Top 5 Picks for this week. These are artists that you may have heard of, or better yet, they are artists that you haven't heard of and you should definitely check out.
Thanks again to everyone who has written in and asked if we are still up and running. We are. We just haven't been thrilled about a whole lot and as all of you know, we usually won't write about shit unless we really are into it.
And thank you, Filter Magazine, for asking us to be a part of this. We are honored and stoked.
Happy New Year. We hope 2009 treats all of you well... especially you shitty people.